By Jess Myers
MINNEAPOLIS — When you search Google Maps for the hometown of Minnesota Gophers junior forward Brannon McManus, the first thing you might notice are all of the swimming pools. Or the beaches. Or the countless sailboats and fishing boats at anchor, ready to explore the Pacific Ocean on a whim.
Newport Beach, Calif., in the heart of Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, is a stunningly beautiful place. McManus hasn’t spent a full winter there since he was in eighth grade, as hockey has taken him to several points in the Upper Midwest since then. With one of the winter’s first storms covering the University of Minnesota campus in a layer of thin snow, he admitted a longing for the Left Cost sometimes.
“I am just so used to it at this point,” McManus said of the unseasonable cold gripping the Twin Cities. “I can’t imagine what my parents are doing today, in 70-degree weather, just hanging out. I was driving my moped the other day and I was like, ‘I cannot do this.’ My hands were about to fall off. But I love being in the cold weather. That means it’s hockey season.”
Surfing the scoring wave
A month into this particular hockey season, it also means it’s time to score for McManus, who has emerged as the every-shift offensive threat he expects to be, after a quiet first month on the ice. After scoring once in the Gophers’ first seven games, McManus has scored the first goal of the game in their last three outings.
On Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich., he even did a kind of stick salute to the red-hot Gophers football team late in the first period at Michigan. He put a shot past Wolverines goalie Strauss Mann, then used his hockey stick like a canoe paddle to “row the boat” as he was enveloped by celebratory teammates.
“We had a meeting two weeks ago and he was sitting at one goal,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “I actually pointed him out in the meeting and said, ‘You’re worried right now, but I’m not. You’re going to score again.’ That’s what he does. It’s like I have a crystal ball and he goes out and gets three.”
It’s been well-documented that NHL legend Wayne Gretzky hoped to ignite an interest in hockey among Southern Californians when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. In the McManus family, Gretzky scored once more.
Brannon’s parents got interested in the game thanks to Gretzky’s arrival, eventually becoming season ticket holders of the Anaheim Ducks after that expansion franchise started up in 1993. Both of Brannon’s older brothers played hockey, first in the roller version and then on the ice.
Move to the Midwest
The youngest McManus boy followed their lead, and loved the game enough to become a standout in the region’s hockey community.
Before his ninth-grade year, the McManus family made what they admit was a tough decision, and Brannon moved halfway across the country to go to school and play hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn. The move was as much about getting away from the legendarily bad traffic in the LA metro area as anything.
“I was traveling 45 or 50 miles to get to the rink, but traffic was the difference-maker,” McManus said. “I’d be spending three hours in a car for an hour of practice. I had to get out of there.”
At Shattuck, his first roommate was current Gophers teammate Scott Reddy, who jokes that McManus has become a “full-on Minnesotan” after living in the region for the past six years. That wasn’t the case upon arrival.
“He was fresh out of California. He was somewhat pale but had all of those California characteristics,” Reedy said with a smile. “It was mostly the way he talked, and his wardrobe needed some updating for the winter weather.”
As ninth-graders at Shattuck, Reddy and McManus were both recruited by then-Gophers assistant coach Grant Potulny, and both committed. After two junior hockey seasons in the United States Hockey League with Omaha and then Chicago, McManus was a member of Don Lucia’s final Gophers team and scored seven goals as a freshman.
Hockey, and maybe a homecoming, after college
He doubled that number last season, and with four goals in the Gophers first 10 games by going hard to the front of the net. And, after an admittedly slow start, he looks to be filling the need for offense from upperclassmen.
“I think I just had to put it in my head that it will go in soon enough. Obviously, the first seven games with one goal, it’s not a good deal, but I never really was worried,” McManus said. “In the back of my head I thought once I get one, I’ll get two, and once I get two I think it will keep going. It’s headed in that direction, for sure.”
As for the direction he’s headed after college, McManus is majoring in business marketing and has designs on a hockey career, but expects that he will eventually follow his father’s lead into the business world. He knows that may mean a move back to the smog and traffic and mountains and beaches of Southern California. And on a cold, snowy Wednesday, that sounds fine to him.
“I live in such a good spot,” McManus said. “It’s beautiful and the weather is legit 60 to 70 degrees every day.”